Phew, this is probably the longest wine name I ever wrote down…who complains about German wine labels when they see this? I like to call the wine simply Briareo.
This wine review is right in line with my recent praises of this wonderful community I have found through blogging (see here). Some of you know my constant complaining (and might actually be sick of it by now) about the absurdity that is the U.S. wine pricing system. I still cannot get over how expensive “better” wines are in this country. Blame the stupid three tier system, blame the high prices of French and Italian wines that the market somehow adopted for pretty much anything else, blame whatever you want. I still don’t think it is just the shipping that makes wines so expensive, because containers are not that expensive anymore…but, end of rant.
Several months ago, I realized that my wine friend Anatoli over at Talk-a-vino kept mentioning this wine site Wines Till Sold Out (or short WTSO). It is a site that sells one wine at a time, usually at a steep discount. Shipping is free if you buy a couple of bottles (usually between 2-4, depending on the wine). I started eyeing that website and realized that besides the usual suspects of California Cabernet Sauvignons and Burgundy whites, they also sell a lot of Italian reds. And the prices are actually quite good. Given that, including shipping, you usually end up with a price tag of somewhere above 70 bucks for between 2-4 bottles, it is still a considerable amount of money for this Germany spoiled imbiber. So I never bought anything.
Then, shortly before Christmas, WTSO was offering this wine, the 2006 Briareo and I simply had to buy it, as in HAD to buy it. I visited that winery (actually it is a cooperative) when I was in Montepulciano in 2005 and I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED their standard Vino Nobile (we took a case back to Germany). Back then, the Briareo didn’t seem to offer much better quality than the standard, and the standard was considerably lower priced (I think 12 euros per bottle instead of the 19 per bottle they wanted to the Briareo). But now, that did not matter: This was a winery I had visited and whose wines I remembered fondly, and that wine was selling for $18!! Incredible. So, I ordered four bottles to fulfill the minimum requirement for shipping.
The wines arrived after we returned from our Alaska trip in mid January. And have been sitting in the wine rack since. I have to say, I was actually hesitant to open a bottle. I remembered their wines so fondly, but this was a different vintage etc. etc. etc. What if I was going to be totally disappointed? (I can be a worrier…) Sunday night we decided to open a bottle. The heck, we still have three left after that one! Plus, I left Ann Arbor for a couple of weeks to help out a good friend of mine with some stuff in San Antonio, Texas, so why not make this a good last evening before I left?
The wine, as a proper Vino Nobile, is made from a mix of Sangiovese grapes (in Montepulciano that grape is called Prugnolo Gentile and a Vino Nobile needs to have a minimum of 70% of that grape in it) and Canaiolo. While a standard Vino Nobile gets to age two years in oak, a Riserva spends a minimum of three years in oak.
The crazy name “Argo et Non Briareo” is actually a reference to a medieval Latin inscription that is in one of the winery’s walls. It translates to “Argus and not Briareus”. Now that is not very helpful, right? Let me help you a bit with Roman and Greek mythology: Argus is a giant with a hundred eyes. (In German, a saying translates to “You have eyes like Argus.”) Briareus, in contrast, is a giant with just one eye. The inscription means it is better to be Argus with a hundred eyes than Briareus with one eye. According to the winery, they picked that inscription for the wine’s name because the wine is also better enjoyed with a hundred eyes because of its depth and sophistication than just one eye. Kind of cute that story. I have actually seen that inscription on the outside of their cellar walls.
Vecchia Cantina, the cooperative, was founded in 1937 by fourteen winemakers. You can find their website here.
But enough, enough of the gibberish. Let’s dive into this wine. I decanted it and oh boy, did this wine need decanting! We followed the wine over the course of 2 1/2 hours and its development was fascinating. It poured in a pale red to garnet color, very light. The initial nose was dominated by cherries, tobacco (lots of it) and floral aromas. After 30 minutes of decanting, the flavor was dominated by acidity and quite an amount of peppery heat which was really weird and disconcerting. I got violets, tobacco, leather and some plums. It was a thin, not very interesting wine.
So we decided to let it stand for a bit. And after 90 minutes in the decanter it finally began opening up: The cherry notes became more prominent in the nose, the heat was virtually gone from the wine. It was deep and interesting while at the same time retaining that refreshing lightness.
After two hours, the nose got super fruity, with a lingering tobacco aroma and some dark chocolate. It even seemed like the color had changed to a darker red, almost ruby. Now I finally enjoyed the wine. Its finish was long and enticing. I still think it should have had a little more heft to it given that it is a Riserva, but it was really yummy. And the best thing was how much Nina enjoyed it. She LOVED the Briareo and couldn’t get enough of it.
Just for those curious: The Wine Spectator rated this wine with 93 points and states its ageing potential as 2012-2025. According to their notes, there is dried cherry and berries, floral aromas, licorice, spices and leather aromas in the nose as well as on the palate. Long finish with ripe fruit and flowers.
Now I wish I had bought more bottles, because the price tag ($18) was great and if I want to taste it once a year within the suggested drinking window, I need to get a couple more to make it to 2025…:) Thank you, Anatoli!